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NEW YORK -- In a sharp detour from its mission of serving the world's poor, a key UN agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has solicited funds from global corporations with tarnished records on human rights, labor and the environment.
An internal UNDP memo obtained by the Transnational Resource and Action Center (the San Francisco-based corporate watchdog that released Ernst & Young's audit of a Nike' factory in Vietnam last year) reveals that UNDP has approached at least 30 major global corporations and at least eleven are paying $50,000 each to UNDP for privileges that flow from this patronage. As part of its plan, the UNDP appears to be considering special UNDP sanctioned logos for use by corporate sponsors.
Called the "Global Sustainable Development Facility"(GSDF), the plan calls for corporate sponsors to funnel donations to a separate entity, which they will manage. Sponsors will "benefit from the advice and support of UNDP through a special relationship" according to the internal memo. Participation in the GSDF will afford corporations unprecedented access to UNDP's network of offices, high level governmental contacts and its reputation.
"We fear these global corporations care more about 'greenwashing' their own tarnished public images than about meeting the pressing needs of the world's poor," said Joshua Karliner, Executive Director of the Transnational Resource and Action Center (TRAC). He adds, "The needs of poor communities around the world constantly conflict with corporate goals. Corporations often use child labor, obstruct trade unions, and engage in practices that destroy natural resources and pollute poor communities."
In a letter to UNDP Administrator Gus Speth, copied to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, prestigious NGOs from around the world today called on UNDP to "halt its Global Sustainable Development Facility project and in so doing preserve the credibility of its mission to serve the world's poor." The letter was signed by such prominent international figures as Upendra Baxi, the former Vice Chancellor of India's premiere university, the University of Delhi, and SM Mohamed Idris, President of the Malaysia-based Third World Network, one of the South's most highly respected centers of research and analysis.
The GSDF project reflects a broader trend of growing UN collaboration with transnational corporations. Secretary General Kofi Annan has accelerated the trend over the past year, notably in a recent speech in Davos, Switzerland. At the same time, the UN is considering undercutting a sub-group of the UN Human Rights Commission which is addressing the impacts of corporations on a broad spectrum of rights issues.
"The UN is at a crossroads," said Upendra Baxi, a visiting professor of law at New York University and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi. "It can take the low road and favor trade based, market friendly corporate rights or take the high road carved out by its founders, which would allow it to continue to stand up for universal labor, environmental and human rights in this age of globalization."
"The U.S. government's refusal to pay the $1.6 billion it owes the UN may be leading the world body to seek political and economic support from corporations," observed John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "Unfortunately, US policy results in pressure on agencies such as UNDP to serve the short term interests of corporate shareholders rather than foster the long term goals of sustainable human development," he said.
"A Perilous Partnership: The United Nations Development Programme's Flirtation with Corporate Collaboration," a report from the Transnational Resource and Action Center, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Council on International and Public Affairs, names the corporations that have signed on as GSDF sponsors. Many, including the British mining concern Rio Tinto Plc; the Swiss-Swedish firm, Asea, Brown Boveri; US corporations Dow Chemical and Citibank; and Stat Oil, Norway's state-owned oil company, have come under fire from groups around the world for significant human rights, labor or environmental abuses.
"The UN should be monitoring the human rights and environmental impacts of corporations in developing and industrialized nations, not granting special favors," said Ward Morehouse, President of the Council on International and Public Affairs. "Increasing collaboration will lead to a reluctance to criticize corporations which are central players in the human rights, environmental and development dramas unfolding every day across the globe."
"This is precisely the wrong moment for the UN to do this," said John Cavanagh. "Much of the world is now suffering because there are no checks and balances on the global financial market. The United Nations should act as a check on global corporations."
Documents available on www.corpwatch.org/un
- 101 Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN